Why Cities Without Houses is the best-kept secret at Soho House
On its seventh anniversary, Group Membership Director Dominique Bellas reveals why our Houses without borders membership type is worthy of the world’s (and your) attention
Friday 21 April 2023 By Teo van den Broeke
Present in more than 80 cities – from Bali to Buenos Aires – Cities Without Houses is our unique membership type, designed for peripatetic individuals living in global metropolises without physical clubs.
This year, Cities Without Houses celebrates its seventh anniversary, and with further expansion on the horizon we thought it would be a good moment to touch base with the woman behind the magic, Dominique Bellas, to learn more about why it’s the best kept secret at Soho House.
Above: Dominique Bellas, Soho House Group Membership Director
For those who don’t know, what is Cities Without Houses?
‘Cities Without Houses (or CWH for short) is a type of membership for creatives who travel, but don’t have a physical Soho House in their city. They want to be part of our global and local communities, they want to have access to all the Houses around the world, and they want all the benefits and to be able to attend our events. In a nutshell, that’s what it is. It’s Soho House’s best-kept secret.
‘CWH also adds value to our existing Soho House members. They travel all over the world, so if our CWH events can offer a community or a home away from home and a chance for them to meet like-minded people when they travel, that’s special. If I was a London member going to Seoul for the first time and there was a friendly membership community there to meet me, that would feel really valuable.’
How much does membership cost?
‘As there is no physical House, there’s no registration fee and consequently the rate is slightly less expensive than Every House membership. We also offer the membership to Under 27s for half the price, just like we do in our Houses. You’ll be able to visit our clubs when you’re travelling, and then if you’re in one of our 80 cities that we’ve chosen for CWH membership, you can have access to the community and global roster of events.’
Where did the idea for Cities Without Houses come from?
‘I’ve been with Soho House for 11 years, and seven years ago Nick Jones came to me with an idea. We had members who lived all over the world, and not necessarily in London or New York where we had Houses. Nick was spending a lot of time meeting people in cities like Madrid, Hong Kong and Paris, and he had the idea to connect those communities without Houses, to build a membership for them and to add value to those members’ lives. An added bonus was that we’d also get to know those cities better as a business.’
How was CWH created?
‘It’s been amazing to build it from scratch. We had never changed our membership model before CWH, so it was a big shift for the business and a really exciting one. We gathered members and got feedback to pick the cities to start with. We came up with 40 of the most interesting, with great creative scenes, so we assembled a team and went off into the world with our suitcases. We met as many people as possible – discovering the movers and shakers in key industries – and began to form committees, as we’ve always done. The committee is the foundation of any new community we build.
‘In the process of growing CWH, we have built a team of people that are passionate about supporting their communities through partnerships and events, and in turn a group of members who really appreciate the intention behind what we do. The fact that we are able to produce expertly curated events two or three times a month in some markets speaks to how engaged our members are. Our communities in San Francisco and Atlanta, in particular, have high frequency events, large and engaged bases, and intentional programming – including our recent Women’s History Month Panel series and a collaboration with Soho House Mexico City to highlight the opening.’
Why is CWH an important part of the Soho House business?
‘For me it diversifies our membership. I’m super interested in people and it’s been amazing to meet members from all over the world. Our Houses are better for it. How interesting is it that you could be sitting at the Circle Bar in 40 Greek Street and find yourself next to a fashion designer from Tokyo, or an artist from Buenos Aires? It’s the beauty of Soho House, it’s made our membership more interesting.
‘It’s also a great litmus test for potential Houses. It’s almost like we’re dating cities to see whether they like us, or whether we like them. It’s given us a foundation to understand how they work and whether the creative community is strong within them. It’s also given us an opportunity to think how a House would work in those locations. We’ve seen so many open in locations where we have CWH communities, such as Hong Kong, Tel Aviv, Rome, Paris, Austin, Nashville, Stockholm, and Copenhagen.’
What have been the greatest achievements of CWH over the years?
‘Seeing the aforementioned cities turn into Houses has been an achievement. For those members who joined when we were trying to build a community with no physical space and then having a House so many years later is wonderful for those cities. It’s a real testament to what we’re doing. We would never have had a House in some of those locations were it not for CWH and us listening to our members.
‘Last year, we went from 40 cities to 80 cities, which sounds mad but it shows that we understand there are places where we need to test the water and grow as a brand. We can’t be a global business without that footprint. We need to start building in Africa and doing more across Asia – markets where we don’t have much presence currently. But growth from 40 to 80 cities is a real achievement. It’s 100% growth.’
Tell us a bit about the events that you host – why are they important?
‘The events started by us attempting to add value for those members living in cities without a House. They began organically as a way of bringing those members together and to connect them to Soho House. What started small has developed into a really strong events programme. It affords us the chance to give those members an experience of Soho House. What could be better than attending a pop-up in an unexpected location, drinking a Picante and meeting people you’ve never met before? Those unique experiences are really special and important.
‘We also collaborate a lot with members, local businesses and local brands, so for those cities it forms part of the ecosystem. We’ve also developed a One Night Only series, where we host a pop-up dinner with local chefs or Soho House food in an amazing location. We’ll bring a bartender and make House Tonics and create a full Soho House experience. We’ve done it in so many locations and cities. We did a pop-up during Frieze in Seoul last year. It was the first time the art fair had come to the city, so it was great to provide a home for our members there. We’ve also done pop-ups in Milan and Mexico City, to name a few.
‘Another event franchise we’ve created is Soho Weekenders, which involves the team curating a full weekend away for our members, with programming featuring local talent in a special location, alongside a curated group of interesting people. We’ve hosted them on the Algarve, in cabins in the woods of America, in a castle in Scotland, and everywhere in between.
‘Our music programming is also similar to what you’ll see in the Houses. We hosted events such as a Q&A and party with rapper Pusha T in Washington D.C. and chess with GZA from Wu-Tang Clan. Plus, multiple Sound Sessions featuring Japanese rapper Awich in Tokyo, Shy Girl at our party to celebrate Art SG in Singapore, Masego in Singapore and Milan, and Akemi Fox in Manchester.
‘We also produce events around art and fashion weeks, as they bring many creative people to our pop-ups. We partnered with Valentino for Singapore Art Week, and Dimore Studio in Milan for both Salone del Mobile and fashion week. And we’ve also curated art and fashion-centred events in Cape Town, São Paulo, Bogotá, Lima, Buenos Aires, Milan, Zurich, Dubai, Madrid, Lisbon, and Sydney. These events have given us the ability to be present during key cultural moments.’
What are the plans for the future of CWH?
‘This year, we’re going to see our CWH communities in certain locations getting a House –including Manchester and Mexico City – and there are some great cultural moments that we’ll do activations for. We’re excited about those at Art Basel in Basel, SXSW for the first time in Sydney, and Outside Lands in San Francisco. We’ll also do something for Frieze in Seoul. With the addition of 40 cities last year, we’re also activating new locations. Vienna, Lisbon, Porto, Memphis, Houston, Manila, Jakarta, Taipei and various cities in Africa are going to see more CWH activity.’
What’s the best thing about CWH?
‘It’s the intimate connections our members make through our events and community-based activations. Our members become lifelong friends, couples and business partners. They truly want to connect and meet like-minded people and, in turn, create a meaningful local community.’
Now you know everything there is to know about CWH, why wouldn’t you want to be a part of Soho House’s best-kept secret? Apply for Cities Without Houses membership here.
If you’d like to recommend a friend who lives in a city without a House to become a member of Cities Without Houses, please use the ‘Propose a new member’ function on the app.